Women Working From Home? It Must Be Nice

It had been a long week.

The inevitable client-side deadline slips had resulted in that perfect storm where everything came due at once. But I juggled, worked miracles, made everyone happy and, with great relief, made it to the weekend.

On Friday night, we were out with some friends that we hadn’t seen in months. The conversation drifted to the kids, as it tends to do.

“You’re so lucky that you don’t work,” she said.

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

“I work!” I protested. “Just this week I closed out a major project with a multinational corporation….”

“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. “I just meant that you don’t, you know, work.”

My Philly snark and sarcasm came flying out with a vengeance. “Oh, of course!” I said. “Running my own business is nothing like working in an office like you do.”

“Right!” she said, completely missing the point and seeming visibly relieved that I finally understood.

Thank goodness that our waitress interrupted us before I completely lost my composure.

Freelancers, independents… whatever you call us, our role in the world economy seems to be vastly misunderstood. Sure, our clients count on us to deliver miracles on time and on budget, but the rest of the world? What is it that they think we do all day long?

So I asked another friend. She shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t have any idea what my friends really do. One is the executive of somethingorother and travels a ton. Another does something with computers, but I really don’t understand what.” She thought for a moment. “But then again, nobody really understands what I do, either.”

Then she delivered the kicker: “You know, nobody would question it if you were a guy. Everyone assumes that guys work. Women… well, you have a kid. I think there’s an assumption that you don’t work.”

And she might be right. If I were a man, would my friend have suggested that I “don’t work”?

Do men who work from home deal with the same misconceptions?

6 thoughts on “Women Working From Home? It Must Be Nice

  1. Jennifer Geib

    Yep, I hear you! I think I’ve had that same conversation in some form or another at least a dozen times in the last year. Only since I’ve rented a shared office space where I work about half the time have I noticed the comments start to abate. And along with the assumption that I don’t really work when I’m at home, I also get the comments about how amazing it must be to have a home office. Yes, it is nice to be able to throw in a load of laundry between deadlines every once in awhile, but it is also a major distraction at times, even guilt inducing when you simply don’t have the time. If you were at an office, you wouldn’t be expected to get all your work done plus the household (and child-minding, if you’ve got them) work done during the course of the day!

  2. Mica

    Very interesting insight. I agree with your friend – a lot of people do not understand the work that goes into creating a business and working from home.
    If your friends don’t really understand what you do, and they know you have a kid, I totally agree – they’ll assume you don’t actually do anything (and this is because they aren’t really clear on what it is you do in your day-to-day activities).

    I feel “dads who work at home” still have the the same stigma/assumption attached to them it’s just not as harsh because they’re seen as not only caregivers but also “money-makers”; women are often stereotyped in that they aren’t seen to fill both roles (nor be able to).

  3. Alisa Bonsignore

    I do get a lot of that locally. The majority of moms at my son’s school have opted to stay home to raise their kids, so it’s assumed that none of us has a revenue-generating job that we need to attend to. There’s this look of confusion when I say that I can’t make the 2:00 PM coffee with the principal or PTA meeting because it’s right in the middle of my workday and I have a conflicting conference call. But I was completely startled to get that sort of response from another working mom, particularly someone I’ve known for more than a decade.

    I find myself wondering if the issue is less that I work from home, and more that I’m not affiliated with a specific corporation. As my other friend noted, she doesn’t really know exactly what most of her friends do, but she does know where they work. Would the perception be different if I was a remote work-at-home employee of a major organization?

  4. Di

    This misconception is a given with working from home. Even my husband and adult kids sometimes have this attitude, even though they know and respect what I do. I used to get irritated by it. Now I realize it really doesn’t matter. Who cares what other people think I do all day?

    The only time it does matter is when you yourself let it take away from your productivity. If your kid’s school wants you to do homeroom and you’ve got a deadline, it’s your responsibility, not the school’s, to respect your work and say no.

  5. Phil Williams

    I don’t think it’s a gender thing as such, although the perception that you’re just looking after kids or the house is certainly not what I get (mostly because I don’t have any kids or a house). Some people just assume I’m a bum, but whatever – they must also think I create money out of magic or something.

    What I find frustrating is when other people have days off work and assume I can drop everything to join them. Most of the time these days I’ve given up bothering to explain that I am actually working; when people ask me what I’m doing during a regular working day I just tell them ‘business’ and don’t bother to explain. For some reason the idea that you’re doing business seems more satisfying to most people than doing work.

  6. Cheryl Edenfield

    I totally get what you’re saying because it’s happened to me too. My husband and I own a business. When he went back to working full-time in an office, I stayed home to run the business. We certainly were treated differently. I was called a “stay at home mom” with a business on the side, while he was the president/ceo of the same business when he stayed home. When I went to buy a new car, sans husband, that’s exactly what the salesman tried to put on the application. I don’t believe it’s entirely a gender issue as mentioned in a previous comment, but it certainly was in this case.